'Peacemaker': Freddie Stroma on Vigilante and Passing James Gunn's A**hole Test (Exclusive)

The actor talks to ET about suiting up for the HBO Max series starring John Cena.

After debuting to critical acclaim, Peacemaker has enraptured fans with its tongue-in-cheek yet action-packed take on life of an antihero who desperately wants to be liked. While John Cena’s titular egotistical hired assassin is at the center of James Gunn’s HBO Max series, it's the ensemble cast of quirky characters that really brings the story alive. Especially Freddie Stroma, who plays Peacemaker’s longtime, adoring friend, Vigilante, a sociopath who has no problem killing anyone who has done wrong -- or seen him out of costume.  

“He’s definitely a psychopath,” Stroma tells ET’s Will Marfuggi, explaining that he’s really a foil for Peacemaker, who has developed a conscience over the course of the season. “[Peacemaker]’s trying to figure out where he is on the moral spectrum. That’s what he’s trying to figure out through the show. And then, Vigilante represents what he was before. Maybe not quite as psychotic.” 

That said, there’s a foolish charm bolstered by Stroma’s stunning good looks that is disarming. “He’s very off… but he’s got this sort of sweet aspect to him,” Gunn tells Polygon.

His ringtone is Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” after all. “It’s so good, because you can never put your finger on him and you just don’t know what this character is,” Stroma says. And it’s that which makes him so watchable -- and pop off the screen -- even alongside Cena. 


Adding to his impact are some amazing action sequences, most notably in episode 4 (“The Choad Less Traveled”), when Vigilante provokes a jail fight with a bunch of white supremacists after getting himself arrested on purpose. “As soon as I read it, I was like, ‘Wow. James just wrote this incredible sequence,’” Stroma recalls. 

“It’s a very fun scene to play because, as an audience member, you’re thinking, ‘Is this guy gonna be a lamb to the slaughter?’ Which is kind of what it looks like. But you’re like, ‘What’s going on? Why isn’t he intimidated? He looks very relaxed,’” he says of Vigilante’s hallway strut leading up to the unexpected fight scene, which the actor says is such a payoff for viewers.

When it comes to the actual fight scene, Stroma credits all the stunt actors for making everything look as intense as it does onscreen. “These guys are huge and one was like, ‘Actually just hit me on the chest.’ And I was like, ‘OK.’ He was like, ‘You can go 10 times harder.’ So, I went, like, much harder. It’s funny ‘cause I was like, ‘Oh no, I might hurt him,’” he recalls. “And even if I had a sledgehammer, I don’t think I could hurt him.”

Stroma adds, “They were very gracious and made it look very good. It was a lot of fun to shoot and a lot of fun stunts.” 


Despite his fierce loyalty to Peacemaker (“How much he loves Peacemaker and how much he loves their relationship and being a superhero, that’s so important to him,” Stroma says), Vigilante has a hard time fitting in with the rest of the team assembled by A.R.G.U.S. 

It’s not until episode 7 (“Stop Dragon My Heart Around”) that he finally seems to be appreciated by the others for who he is. “He definitely feels like he’s part of the team at that point,” Stroma confirms, noting that after not wanting to reveal his identity in the first few episodes, “he feels like it’s OK to not have his mask on.” 

While it feels like a shift for Vigilante, Stroma says not to get too relaxed around him. “He gets more comfortable with the group, but he’s still kind of an odd, psychotic guy. He hasn’t changed too much.” 

If anything, the actor says, “He’s maybe gotten a little closer to Peacemaker, which makes him happy.” 

Of course, any time spent with Peacemaker would make Vigilante happy. And it’s those scenes with Cena that Stroma says have been among his favorite to shoot. “We just got to have a lot of back and forth, a lot of comedy,” he shares. “I was definitely breaking character a lot just because it would be too funny to hold onto that.”


But the Vigilante audiences have come to enjoy could have been very different. 

Originally, Chris Conrad was cast in the role before leaving five episodes into filming over creative differences with Gunn. When it came to replacing him with Stroma, the director revealed that he checked in with the actor’s Pitch Perfect co-star, Elizabeth Banks, who also co-produced the 2012 film. 

“I should thank [Elizabeth Banks] who I called to do an a**hole check to make sure [Freddie Stroma] was a good guy,” Gunn wrote on Twitter. “She told me he was great [and] she was right!”   

“It is true. I came in a little later to the project,” Stroma says. “It could be a little intimidating because everyone had been working together and I was the new kid on set. But everyone was so lovely. This is just the best group of people.” And when it came to building chemistry with Cena in particular, he says, “We just bounced off each other.”

When it comes to Banks vouching for him, Stroma says that “Elizabeth Banks was awesome and a lot of fun to work with.” And looking back on the musical comedy 10 years later, Stroma remembers it being a “very quick” shoot. “We went down to Baton Rouge and I was only there for, like, a week at the beginning,” he says, referring to his small supporting role as the manager of the radio station where Anna Kendrick’s character interned.

“It’s funny, 'cause maybe I wasn’t an a**hole then, but could have been now. Ten years, that’s a long time,” Stroma quips. “But James likes to check in before… So, it was nice I got past the a**hole test.”   

Peacemaker debuts Thursdays on HBO Max.